Legislators tell Beshear they’ll talk with him after votes to override vetoes; he says ‘See you in court,’ warns of fourth surge in cases

Department for Public Health graph, relabeled by Kentucky Health News; click it to enlarge

By Melissa Patrick and Al Cross
Kentucky Health News
The dispute between Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and the Republican-controlled General Assembly over legislators’ efforts to limit his emergency powers during the pandemic is headed to court.
Leaders of the legislature told Beshear Monday that they would hold votes to override his vetoes of bills they passed to limit his powers before discussing “what modifications might improve the legislation.”
Legislators, who have voiced displeasure with Beshear’s emergency orders and his attitude toward them, are all but certain to override his three vetoes, and he made clear what he would do after that.

“If their comment is ‘We are going to override your vetoes no matter what and maybe we can talk later,’ I guess mine is ‘We are going to see you in court’,” Beshear said after revealing their plans at a regular briefing, at which he warned that there could be another surge in cases of the novel coronavirus.

“I cannot and will not let the health and lives of the people of Kentucky be put in this danger when we are so close to getting out of it,” he said. “This would mean Kentucky would have the least ability of any state in the United States to respond to this crisis and save lives.”

But not if a judge issued an order blocking the legislation, which has its own emergency clauses to make it effective immediately. However, the case would differ from the one Beshear won at the state Supreme Court, which said he was acting lawfully; the legislature writes the laws, and can change them.

The day’s events dashed hope of a negotiated settlement.

After the legislature quickly passed the bills Jan. 5-9, Senate President Robert Stivers indicated that it might be willing to negotiate with Beshear before bringing the bills up for override votes. Beshear responded with a two-page letter Jan. 20 to Stivers and House Speaker David Osborne to see if they would be willing to compromise.

“We put an offer on the table,” Beshear said Monday. “We followed up numerous times about whether it had been seen and whether we were going to meet, and then the day before the session is about to start we got a letter saying we don’t have time, we are going to override your vetoes and maybe we can talk after.”
The letter, which Beshear’s office gave the Lexington Herald-Leader in response to an open-records request, said “We will be happy to sit down with you as soon as schedules allow and talk about what modifications might improve the legislation and its application to the ongoing pandemic.” The leaders did not respond to a request for comment, Jack Brammer reports.
Also Monday, Beshear extended for another 30 days his mandate to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces, and said it will be  necessary to wear them until Kentucky reaches herd immunity, which would be reached when 70% of the state’s population has been vaccinated.
Beshear noted that if the General Assembly prevails in their dispute, such measures could become voluntary. One bill would limit emergency orders to 30 days unless approved by the legislature.

Pandemic status: New coronavirus cases and positive-test rates have fallen for three consecutive weeks, and hospitalizations and intensive-care use are also down, but Beshear cautioned Kentuckians to remain vigilant and remember that this is still a “dangerous time” because the numbers are still too high.

“Folks, this isn’t over. We may face another increase before we get through this,” he said, adding a reference to his orders that have restrained commerce and personal behavior to thwart the virus: “We’ve got to make sure that, given that we have known how to stop it three straight times, we don’t do something silly and remove our ability to do what works and what’s worked three straight times.”
Beshear announced 1,623 new coronavirus cases on Monday, raising the seven-day rolling average by 50, to 2,390 — mainly because the new-case number was 355 higher than the previous Monday’s.
The share of Kentuckians testing positive for the virus in the last seven days remained below 9 percent for the fourth day in a row. Today, the average was 8.85%, 0.04 percentage points higher than Sunday.
“We have seen our positivity rate decreasing” since Jan. 10, Beshear said. “That shows you that our decrease in case numbers isn’t because of any change in testing, there is less disease out there. Fewer people by percentage are getting the virus week over week.”
Vaccines: For four weeks, Beshear said the state has administered more initial doses than it has received from the federal government.
“If you’re having a hard time signing up, it’s because there just aren’t enough doses,” he said. “But we are working hard and everybody is going to get their turn.”
Kentucky’s first four regional vaccination sites are opening this week. One, in partnership with Kroger Health, opens Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena. Another will open in Danville, through a partnership with Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center. Two will open in Paducah, through partnerships with Western Baptist Hospital and Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital. More are in the works.
Speaking about the challenges of supply, Beshear said the Danville hospital has already received 170,000 calls from people wanting a vaccine, but has only 300 slots.
In Clark County, Indiana, across the Ohio River from Louisville, as many as 30 people lied about their eligibility to get the coronavirus vaccine over the weekend, according to the local health department, Sarah Ladd reports for the Louisville Courier Journal.
Asked if this was happening in Kentucky, Beshear said the state has not seen much of it, noting that some people have been vaccinated out of order when locations need to reach their 90% goal of giving all of their vaccines within seven days of receiving them.
A news release from Beshear’s office said, “422,500 initial vaccine doses have been sent to Kentucky and 362,271 have been administered: 341,575 initial doses have been sent to the state’s distribution program and 305,757 have been administered through that program; 80,925 initial doses have been sent to Kentucky through the federal long-term care vaccination program that contracts with CVS and Walgreens and 56,514 have been administered through that program.”
Beshear said one thing he would do differently, if he had it to do over, would be to reject those contracts and work with local, independent pharmacies, as one state, West Virginia, is doing with great success.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s data tracker ranks Kentucky 27th for the percentage of vaccine doses received that have been administered, Becker’s Hospital Review reports. It shows that as of Jan. 31, 659,150 doses have been distributed to Kentucky, and 404,705 of those have been administered, or 62.25%. Those numbers combine the state and long-term-care programs.
Schools: Last week, at least 1,330 students and 563 staff tested newly positive for the virus, and at least 6,886 students and 911 staff were quarantined, The K-12 school dashboard shows that 319 schools did not provide any data to the state. Beshear said 18 high-school sports teams are quarantined.
Beshear said all K-12 employees who want the vaccine will have received their first dose by the end of this week, which allows for significant expansion of in-person instruction.
Deaths: Beshear reported 35 new Covid-19 deaths, all but three of them confirmed, saying that for the first time only six of the deaths were from long-term-care facilities.

“I hope that’s a sign that our early vaccinations and steps in long term care are making a difference,” he said. ” But again, it should be a warning to all the rest of us that this can impact you whether you’re in a long term care facility, or not.”

The state’s Covid-19 death toll is 3,780. The seven- and 14-day death averages are both down, to 45.7 and 43.8, respectively, from highs of 47.3 and 44.4, three days ago and two days ago.
Long-term care: A CDC report published Monday said that between Dec. 18 and Jan. 17, 77.8% of residents and 37.5% of staff in the nation’s long-term care facilities had received at least one dose of the vaccine in the first month of the CDC Pharmacy Partnership for Long-term Care Program.
The report does not have state-specific numbers, but a color-coded map shows less than 40% of Kentucky’s long-term care staff and between 40% and 79% of residents had received at least one dose.
Asked for the state’s numbers, Beshear said staff members have been given three chances to get vaccinated, which allows those who were initially hesitant to get vaccinated at the second or third visit. He added that some staff who initially declined the vaccine simply didn’t want to go first and are much more willing now.
He said he would again work to get the exact percentages, noting that the challenge is that the program is fully run by CVS Health and Walgreens for the federal government. He added that they “work and push” to get more information from them, “but it is not under our direct control.”
Beshear did not respond to the second part of the question, asking which communication and outreach strategies the state is employing to improve these numbers.
The report notes several limitations to the study, including a possible underestimation of staff numbers because they could have been vaccinated elsewhere, and scheduling challenges for staff members who may not have been at the facility when the vaccines were offered.
Long-term-care facilities reported 18 new resident cases and 30 new staff cases Monday, bringing the number of active cases to 576 in residents and 322 in staff. Beshear said nine more long-term-care deaths were attributed to Covid-19, bringing the total number to 2,169.

“The growth there as our overall percentage of deaths, it’s not growing, it’s actually now decreasing, which means we’re doing a better job, especially as the vaccinations happen,” he said.

In other coronavirus news Monday: 
  • Today’s fatalities were an Adair County woman, 88; three Boone County men, 67, 69 and 71; a Boyle County man, 56; two Bullitt County women, 72 and 89; four Bullitt County men, 78, 79, 81 and 81; a Calloway man, 67; a Clay County man, 76; a Clinton County woman, 74; a Fayette County woman, 97; two Fayette County men, 87 and 94; a Grayson County woman, 79; a Harlan County woman, 81; a Harlan County man, 60; a Harrison County man, 60; two Jefferson County women, 45 and 78; seven Jefferson County men, 59, 67, 71, 77, 78, 79 and 95; two Kenton County men, 68 and 79; a Lawrence County man, 90; a Madison County woman, 88; and a Monroe County man, 68.
  • Counties with 10 or more new cases were Jefferson, 284; Fayette, 114; Madison, 111 ; Daviess, 83; Kenton, 58; Warren, 51; Boone, 49; Shelby, 39; Franklin, 38; McCracken and Oldham, 32; Bullitt and Campbell, 28; Grant, 27; Boyd, 26; Floyd and Jessamine, 24; Pike, Pulaski and Trigg, 21; Caldwell and Graves, 19; Hardin, 17; Laurel and Mason, 16, Hopkins, 15; Scott, 14; Calloway, Grayson and Henderson, 13; Powell, Simpson, Spencer and Whitley,11; Greenup, Harlan, Knox and Taylor, 10.
  • Kentucky hospitals has 1,314 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 on Monday, 337 of them in intensive care and 178 of those on ventilators.
  • In four hospital regions, more than 80% of intensive-care beds are occupied: 83% in Barren River and the northeast, 81% in the easternmost region; and Lake Cumberland, 91%.
  • The Herald-Leader, in several articles, answers a range of questions about vaccines, including one titled “Should you get your Covid vaccine if you currently have coronavirus? What to know”; another, “Will Covid vaccines need a booster shot to combat variants? Here’s what to know”; and another, “The Covid-19 vaccine is free to you, but have your insurance info ready anyway.”
  • The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine announced Friday has an overall effective rate of 72% in the United States, which is not as high as the other two vaccines, which are about 95% effective. But three researchers who conducted clinical trials of the vaccine in Kentucky said they were pleased with the vaccine overall, noting that it prevents serious illness and death from Covid-19, had no allergic reactions and has shown few to no side effects, Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal. Another benefit is that it can be stored for several years in a freezer and three months in a refrigerator, compared to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which require ultra-cold storage. Johnson & Johnson has said it will seek emergency authorization this week from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • New polling from the Covid States Project shows about 34% of Kentuckians are receptive to getting vaccinated and  4% would refuse it. Others, 22% and 19% respectively, wanted to wait until some or most of the people they know had received it first, the Courier Journal reports. 
  • In an opinion piece for the Courier Journal, Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, a retired Somerset physician and the chairman of Health Watch USA, walks through the dangers of the coronavirus variant that originated in the United Kingdom, noting that it may be 70% more infectious, 30% more lethal and more likely to infect children. He adds that the Brazil and the South Africa variants “are even more concerning.” That said, he said there is hope in President Biden’s seven-point plan that aims to create a standardized pandemic approach. He also writes that “For many, the virus is becoming a litmus test for reliable news sources,” noting that “unreliable sources rarely if ever correct reporting errors, which have led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
  • The Biden administration hopes to start administering vaccines to children by late spring or summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a Jan. 29 White House news briefing.
  • Kaiser Health News analysis of 23 states that provide demographic data for residents who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus shows that African Americans are still receiving the vaccine at “dramatically lower rates” than white people. Kentucky was not included in the states providing such data.  The state’s daily Covid-19 report shows 8.5% of the state’s Black residents have tested positive for the coronavirus and 8.8% of them have died from it, about equal to the their approximate share of the state’s population, 8.5%. This is a marked decline from June, when Blacks’ death rate was about double their share of the Kentucky population.  Beshear said the state would start providing vaccine demographic information next week.
  • More than 3,000 inmates and 500 employees in Kentucky’s local jails have been infected by the coronavirus since the pandemic began 10 months ago, according to a state public health database obtained by the Herald-Leader. John Cheves reports that these numbers are likely even higher, since no state agency is required to track coronavirus infections or deaths inside the locally run detention centers that house more than 19,000 people. By contrast, federal and state prisons update their case and death numbers daily, Cheves reports. Again, Beshear said the state is focusing vaccinating the correction officers and those in the state who are over 70 and those in high-risk categories. He did not say when prisoners would be allowed to be vaccinated.
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